As you near the end of your high school career, you may discover that you’ve just about exhausted your high school’s course offerings. Often times, students who took more advanced classes early on may find that their high school simply doesn’t courses beyond the level they have already studied.

 

For instance, if you took high school-level math classes while in middle school, you may arrive at the beginning of their senior year with AP Calculus BC already under your belt — and their school may not have any more math classes you can continue with.  If you find yourself in this situation, then don’t panic! You still have many options when it comes to deciding your course load, even if you have already made the most of what your high school has offered.

 

General wisdom advises that students take four years of math and four years of language arts. Most top tier colleges would agree, with schools like Harvard, Columbia, and Stanford strongly recommending four years of both.

 

However, this go-to rule is not absolute, especially if the reason you aren’t taking four years of math or language arts is because you’ve already taken the highest level course your school has to offer in these disciplines. In such cases, schools will certainly understand if you take a different approach in continuing your study of these critically important fields. Read on for advice on what to do next if you’ve already finished AP Literature or AP Calc BC before your senior year.

 

Take the next class in the sequence at a community college

 

One option you have is to enroll in a class — or classes — at your local community college. For instance, if you have already taken AP Calculus BC, you could continue your sequence by taking multivariable calculus. Or, if you have already taken AP English Literature in high school, you could take a new, challenging class that is still related to the field, such as poetry.

 

Choosing to take classes at a community college has several benefits. First, you’re demonstrating that you are willing and able to challenge yourself. Advanced community college courses can be significantly more difficult than high school courses, and by taking the initiative to enroll in such courses, you are showing colleges that you are willing to push your intellectual limits. One of the first things that admissions officers look at when assessing your course load and transcript is the rigor of your classes, so challenging yourself in this way can amplify the overall rigor of your high school course load.


Additionally, by taking community college courses, you may be able to eventually get exemptions from university classes These classes are a fantastic way to get a jumpstart on your college career, and perhaps fulfill a few prerequisites along the way.

 

At the very least, you will gain exposure to fields that you may later choose to pursue once you are in college. College courses are structured in a different manner than the high school classes you are probably used to, and allow for in-depth takes on subjects you may have not explored deeply before. Perhaps by taking poetry, you will discover a deep passion for the works of Sylvia Plath or Ralph Waldo Emerson you would not otherwise have discovered.

 

However, taking community college courses as a high school student does have some drawbacks. First off, college expenses can be expensive, especially compared to high school classes. While taking an AP test costs only $92, college courses may cost several hundreds of dollars, not including the price of expensive textbooks.Cost is certainly a factor to consider when deciding whether or not to sign up for a college class.

 

Additionally, it can be difficult to manage the logistics of these courses. Colleges generally do not operate on the same, centralized schedules that high schools do, so it may be difficult to structure your schedule around them. Classes may be at inconvenient hours, or may overlap with your high school commitments. What’s more, it may be challenging to arrange transportation to and from the community college campus and your high school, depending on its location. Long drives to and from the campus can significantly impact your overall productivity, and may lead to limits on what you can and cannot accomplish in a given day.

 

Take an elective related to the field

 

Another alternative is to take a class related to the sequence you’ve completed at high school, but in a different track. For instance, if you have completed AP Statistics, you may choose to take an elective related to that field, such as financial accounting. Or, if you have taken AP Literature, you may decide to try out a creative writing class, which will allow you to use your language arts abilities in a new way.

 

One benefit of taking this route is that you will be able to gain exposure to fields you haven’t worked in before. Perhaps you’ll learn that you have a real knack at accounting, and uncover real world applications for your talent for crunching numbers. Or maybe you’ll realize you have a strong creative side that had previously been untapped, and discover a deep passion for expressing yourself through the written word. Branching out and trying a new kind of class allows for significant opportunities for self exploration.

 

Additionally, deciding to take a high school course is significantly more convenient than enrolling in a class off campus. By choosing from your high school’s course catalog, you won’t need to arrange travel between your high school and community college, which will make it easier to structure your schedule. . What’s more, managing extracurricular commitments, homework and studying, as well as social obligations becomes far easier with the inherent structure that comes from high school schedules.

 

You may also find that taking an elective course is far less stressful for you as a student. Instead of expending significant energy and a large amount of time on a more demanding, high intensity class your senior year, you’ll have much more downtime and much more ease of mind. This may allow you to devote your time and energy to other things in your life, such as your extracurricular activities, or college applications in the fall.

 

On the flip side, there are some negative aspects associated with this path. For one thing, the elective course you choose may not be weighted. Even if you do well in the class, it may still bring your GPA down if the majority (or entirety) of your other courses are weighted. During senior year, when many top students take a course load full of weighted class in order to achieve the highest GPA and class rank,, this can be a significant deterrent to some students.

 

Another consideration to keep in mind is that taking an ostensibly easy course during your senior year may not look too good to admissions officers. This may signal a lack of effort on your part, or at least an unwillingness to challenge yourself. However, this is unlikely to be a major factor, especially if your overall course load throughout your high school career shows significant rigor. Plus, if the reason you are taking an elective course is because you have already completed the highest level courses in a given high school sequence, admissions officers are likely to be understanding.

 

“Double up” in a similar area or field

 

You also have the option of “doubling up” in a similar area or field. For example, if you have already gone as far as you possibly can in mathematics and you want to be an engineer, you could take two science courses. Or, if you have exhausted all of the English classes at your school and hope to one day work in politics, you could take two social studies classes.

 

Taking two classes in one field demonstrates to colleges that you are still challenging yourself, especially if both classes you decide to take are advanced level courses. Additionally, focusing more heavily on a specific discipline during your senior year shows a serious commitment to that given discipline, which can be extremely beneficial, especially if you hope to eventually major in a subject within that field.

 

What’s more, even if they are not the same subject, in general, mathematics/science and language arts/social studies share a lot in common and have significant overlap. By studying these related fields, you can develop similar skills and prevent brain drain. When you arrive at university in the fall and enroll in math or language arts, your skills will still be sharp and you will be ready to tackle your college curriculum.

 

However, by choosing this track you ultimately will not have completed four years of math/language arts, which is generally expected for many top schools. This may give some admissions officers pause; however, if your transcript clearly demonstrates that you have taken the most advanced courses possible in those fields, this should not be too much of a deciding factor. If you wish, you can explain your decision to “double up” in the Additional Information

 

Self study a related AP course

A final option is to self study an AP course if it is not already offered at your school. For instance, say you’ve taken AP Calculus BC and are wondering how to proceed. If you high school doesn’t offer AP Statistics, one good option could be to study AP Statistics on your own and taking the AP test. The same could be said for language arts: if you have already taken AP English Literature, and AP English Language and Composition is not offered, you could self study AP Lang.

 

By self studying an AP course, you are demonstrating your independence, initiative, and willingness to challenge yourself: all qualities that colleges look for in applicants to their schools. Studying a class by yourself will go a long way in impressing admissions committees!

 

Self studying an AP class also shows college that you pursued a math or language arts course, even if it wasn’t offered at your school. Again, this conveys an extremely positive and important message to admissions officers: you are ready and able to create opportunities for yourself, even when those opportunities are not immediately available to you.

 

However, by self studying an AP class, you will not have a grade for math or language arts on your transcript. Your hard work in this course will not be reflected by a letter grade or a GPA boost, which may be less than desirable for some students.

 

Additionally, because of the timing of college applications, the only way colleges will know that you are self studying this course is if you find a way to convey this to them directly. Even so, this claim will not be directly verifiable, which may give some schools pause when evaluating the significance your decision to self-study this course has on your overall application.

 

You may also find it difficult to self motivate, and in a similar vein, it may be hard for you to find the time to study thoroughly enough so that you will do well on the AP test. Unfortunately, if you do not succeed on the AP test, then it defeats the purpose of self studying. Self studying requires a significant amount of self-discipline, which is a great quality to demonstrate if you can muster it; however, if you cannot find the discipline necessary to master a subject matter, then the goal is ultimately defeated.

 

Although you may initially be concerned upon reaching senior year and discovering you have run out of math and/or language arts courses to take, we hope this guide has alleviated some of your concerns. While conventional wisdom suggests taking four years of these courses, there is some flexibility allowed, and you still have many options to choose from when building your course load.

 

Still have questions about choosing classes? Schedule a free consultation today for personalized advice from one of our admissions experts!

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Lydia Tahraoui

Lydia Tahraoui

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Lydia is a Social Studies concentrator at Harvard University who is deeply committed to helping guide students through the college admissions process. In addition to writing for the CollegeVine blog, Lydia enjoys analyzing Middle Eastern and North African politics and keeping up with all things pop culture.
Lydia Tahraoui

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